The recently-released documentary “The Beatles – Get Back” is all the rage these days.
As a lifelong Beatles fan I couldn’t wait to see it. Now that I have, I’d like to offer some thoughts on it.
*SPOILER ALERT* The band breaks up…
First things first – I said in a Facebook post the other day that people who know how much of a Beatles fan I am might be surprised at what I have to say. If you saw that post and came here expecting me to say that my love of the Beatles has been misplaced and I’ve suddenly come to the realization that they aren’t all that – you may as well stop reading now because that just ain’t happening.
The Beatles are still the greatest band that ever was and ever will be. Did I need 7+ hours of behind-the-scenes footage to reinforce that belief?
I appreciate Peter Jackson’s efforts, but I think he may have gone a bit overboard.
Editorial decisions aside – let’s talk about the content.
WARNING – if your musical taste was stunted by MTV – you probably won’t like this.
The one thing that this documentary proves beyond a doubt is that the Beatles were, are, and always will be the greatest rock band in the world. If your taste in music forbids you from acknowledging such…look at it from an analytical point of view.
In less than 10 years the Fabs released 17 albums in the US, 13 in the UK, 3 in Canada and a few in other countries.
They released 64 singles, practically all of them were in the top 10 and an obscene number of them were number 1.
On April 4, 1964 (only two months after their first American appearance) they held the top 5 spots on the Billboard chart – with seven other songs also in the top 100.
They were the first band to release a double A-side single.
Even though most of the singing was done by John and/or Paul – all four of them sang lead at one time or another.
Equipment (both for playing music and recording it) was invented to duplicate things they did without it.
Then let’s not forget starting the whole British invasion thing.
And on and on…
The fact that this documentary is getting so much attention more than 50 years after the band’s break up should also tell you something. Hell – the fact that it was made at all is pretty telling. Name for me any other band who is – or will be – still relevant fifty years after breaking up.
Take your time…I’ll wait.
It’s difficult (but not impossible) for people who weren’t alive at the time to really grasp the significance of this band. Never before, and not since, has a band had such an overwhelming impact on, not only music, but on…well…everything.
I’ve had many conversations with people who weren’t around at the time and who don’t get it. I find myself saying the same thing over and over…”You had to be there. You had to actually see it develop and grow and expand and mature, until the bubble burst and an entire generation was left with their jaws on the floor…unable to grasp the concept of life without them.”
It is commonly accepted in the scientific community that children begin to form memories as early as 4 years old. Since I was born in 1960, and they made their first American TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, that puts them right there at the front of my “early memory book.” This, along with four older brothers who baptized me with the music of the Woodstock generation, led to a terminal case of Beatlemania.
I was 10 when they broke up. They were so ingrained in my world, that the news of it didn’t seem possible. It was like learning that Santa Claus wasn’t real, only worse.
So, with all that said – here are a few of my thoughts/observations on Get Back.
Billy Preston’s presence in the studio possibly saved the band from disintegrating sooner. Not only did the music benefit from his contribution, it looks as though the boys needed somebody to show off for.
At times during the documentary, it appears as though John and Paul considered George and Ringo as mere backups. Then at other times it seems the exact opposite is true.
The footage proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that once these guys sat down and focused on the music, they were like a well-oiled machine. It’s so easy to see how they cranked out so much great music so effortlessly over the years. There was an undeniable chemistry when the four of them worked together and this documentary gives us a rare glimpse at it. For me, it was like pulling back the curtain and seeing that the wizard really is a wizard.
The Beatles functioned much better as a band than they did as four individuals. Their solo work didn’t hold a candle to their combined efforts and even though Paul is technically still making music – the percentage of really good music in his post-Beatle catalogue is pretty small. John was very preachy in his solo stuff. Rock and Roll and Imagine were the only two standouts (and one of them was a collection of classic covers). George’s solo work never struck a chord with me (no pun intended) because it always seemed as though he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to make money or spread his spiritualism – and let’s face it, those two things don’t generally walk hand-in-hand. Ringo’s solo career has been the one I’ve enjoyed the most, but mostly because of the rosters he has put together for recording and touring.
I have read many books and articles which describe Paul’s desperate attempts to keep the band from self-destruction…watching him in this footage confirms those stories. It also confirms his need for the spotlight. According to practically every account I’ve ever read, Paul loves being a performer – which is a required element if one wants to be a frontman. But this is where we see the difference between Paul and his bandmates. John seemed more interested in the music than the accolades, George had no use for spotlights and Ringo was just plain humble.
Paul craved the attention and adoration being a Beatle offered, which is why, in the last few years he resisted the inevitable breakup. He introduced all kinds of “new directions” for the band in attempts to rekindle their working bond. His logic being that if they had something to focus on as a group they could work around their personal differences.
The whole “Sgt. Pepper” concept was his idea (granted – that one was a bullseye), as was the ill-fated movie/travelling side show “Magical Mystery Tour” (which yielded some great music, but nothing else worthy of them). Filming the Let It Be sessions was another attempted life-line.
It’s really easy to watch the documentary, knowing the final outcome, and criticize Paul for fighting a losing battle – but there is one thing this footage reveals which helped me understand Paul’s motivation.
Paul believed (and says so several times in the documentary) that the group needed something to focus on, “a target”. He felt that the loss of manager Brian Epstein was like a ship losing its rudder. Regardless of his reasons for wanting the band to stay together – he seemed to be the only one who was willing to do whatever was needed to make it so. And when you see the pleasure they all took while working, even with the personal crap bubbling beneath the surface, you can understand why Paul wanted to keep it going.
I will be the first to admit – this entire documentary project could have been whittled down to one 2-3 hour episode. As it stands the only people who will fight through all 7+ hours are hard core Beatles fans. The casual fan will get bored and the non-fan (yes – they’re out there) won’t bother with it at all (as one would expect). Even I could have used much less of the pointless banter and a little less of the clowning around.
To those out there who still harbor the delusion that the Beatles were over-rated I can tell you this…whoever your favorite band is, not only do they not hold a candle to the Beatles, but they owe everything they are to them as well. This documentary is a small bit of proof…
Consider this: It has been fifty-plus years since The Beatles broke up and yet the demand for anything Beatles related was high enough for Disney (the same people who bought the Star Wars franchise for 4 billion dollars) to release this film.
Let’s face it…Disney doesn’t throw money at things if it’s not going to pay dividends.
Watching these guys create an entire album from nothing (plus come up with material to be used on a future album – that being Abbey Road) in just 22 days (20 if you deduct the two days lost to George’s absence) is incredible. It not only showcases their incredible knack for songwriting, it also gives a bird’s eye view of their talents and skills as musicians as all four of them play every instrument in the studio at some point.
I have mixed feelings about the famous rooftop concert…
It was cool watching them perform. It was cool seeing the crowds gather in the street and on the roofs of nearby buildings. I thought it was funny that the police came to break it up and the staff at Abbey Road studios delayed them long enough for the band to play five or six songs. I loved the comments of the people on the streets who, for the most part, loved the whole thing. Even the woman who was pissed because the concert interrupted her sleep was funny. What I didn’t like was that they only played a few songs and repeated them several times. It isn’t clear how the set list was determined, but they could have thrown in a couple of other songs from the fourteen they had rehearsed.
My favorite moment in the whole thing (and I know this is going to seem weird) was when they’re sitting around rehearsing and somebody says it’s time for lunch. So, John, Paul and Ringo all get up to go eat – but George, as calmly as if saying ‘I need a drink of water,’ says “I’ll be leaving now.” When asked what he means he casually says, “I’m leaving the band. See you ‘round the pubs.” And he walks out…
Another point worth mentioning – this series isn’t structured like those cookie-cutter music documentaries with the narrator telling us how the band rose to prominence before tragedy struck and how they came back from it and blah, blah, blah. In fact – there is no narrator and the only story is “you have four (sometimes five) guys in a room with a ticking clock and they need to write, rehearse and record an album worthy of the standards they have set.”
The bottom line:
I loved the documentary for giving us a peek behind the curtain, but unless you are a serious Beatles fan, you’ll most likely have trouble getting through the first episode, let alone the entire thing.
For the serious Beatles fans out there, I’d say you really need to watch it. At the very least it offers closure to those of us who were left hanging all those years ago.
As always – thank you for reading